October 19, 2020

The Rights of Cohabiting Couples – Proposed Changes to the Law

Written by Susan Hughes

As Family Lawyers, we are often asked about the rights of cohabiting couples upon separation.  

There is often a misconception that cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples or couples who have entered into a Civil Partnership.  

The most common misconception around cohabiting couples is the term ‘common-law husband or wife’. 

This does not exist, and many unmarried couples who live together assume that after a long period of cohabitation, they will be entitled to claim a share of their partner’s assets when they separate.  

This is not the case. 

Under the current law, cohabiting partners must divide jointly owned property if they separate, but if there are assets held in their sole names, such as pensions, saving and investments, these will not be divided, and this leaves people who choose to cohabit in a potentially vulnerable position. 

The Cohabitation Rights Bill aims to improve this situation and provide protections for people who live together or have lived together as a couple. 

The proposed change in the law will allow couples with children, or couples without children, who have lived together for two or more years, the right to apply for a financial settlement. 

This financial settlement can take the form of a cash lump sum, the transfer of a property to their sole name or the ability to insist on the sale of their partner’s property to receive a share of the proceeds. 

This will be good news for many people in long-term relationships who are living together. 

However, if you and your partner have made the decision not to get married and do not want to qualify for a financial settlement, then it is proposed that there will be provision to ‘opt-out’.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill had it 1st reading in the House of Lords on the 6th February this year, and a date is awaited for the second reading, and if passed, the Bill will have huge significance for cohabiting couples.

In the meantime, couples planning to move in together who are not yet married or have yet to enter into a Civil Partnership may want to consider a Cohabitation Agreement.

What is included in a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement should be tailor-made to your specific circumstances and should consider:

  1. Who owns and owes what at the time of the agreement and in what proportions
  2. What financial arrangements you have decided to make while you are living together
  3. How property, assets and income should be divided if you should split up

More information can be found in this blog – https://www.peterlynnandpartners.co.uk/cohabitation-agreements/

However, for advice on issues relating to cohabitation, please contact Susan Hughes in our Family Department on either 01554 788280 or email [email protected]